The Discrimination of Outsiders
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ZZ Packer’s Drinking Coffee Elsewhere a book that consists of many short stories that are very similar in plot, however very different in the overall meaning of the story. Throughout her compilations of short stories Packer grasps the idea of being labeled an “outside” in our society. In these three stories “Brownies, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, and Geese” all of the main characters of the story receive discrimination from their other peers. In one story “Brownies” the main character are the ones dishing out the discrimination. Being labeled an “outsider” does mean that you are receiving some form of discrimination; however that discrimination or malice towards “outsiders” is not always intentional.
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere opens with the idea of the main character Dina being labeled as an “outsider” at her college orientation at Yale. When the story starts she is not being out casted by her peers, but instead herself. Her actions in return make her become considered an “outsider” to her other Yale peers. Dina was a new student at school and was supposed to be participating in a game called Trust. After she finds out the rules to the game she says “No way, No Fucking Way.”(Pg 117) Her inappropriate answer shows how being considered an “outsider” was not forced upon Dina from her peers, she brought it on herself. Dina does this again when she is with her counselor playing another one of the orientation games. This time the kids are in a group going around basically introducing themselves and are to name an object to describe themselves.
When it is Dina’s turn to participate in the game she says “My name is Dina, and if I had to be any object, I guess I’d be a revolver.”(Pg 118) Dina once again shows how she is making herself more and more of an “outsider” with responses like this. When she answers with revolver it is so uncommon and disturbing that it causes Dina to receive one year’s worth of Psychiatric Counseling. This in return shows how she outcasts herself, because when she starts counseling the parents of her roommate insist that her daughter be removed from the dorm room which isolates Dina into having a room to herself, making her an “outsider” literally. Dina’s actions are the reasons she was out casted and labeled an “outsider” at Yale; it was not her peers that forced this upon her.
Packer continues with the outsider theme in her story “Brownies.” The interactions between the little black and white girl scouts show how one group can be out casted and discriminated against at first sight. This idea of making the white Girl Scout troops “outsiders” comes to play right in the first lines of the story. Snot, the narrator, says in the first sentence, “The girls in my Brownie troop had decided to kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie Troop 909” (Pg 1). This shows how the girls put the white girls in an “outsider” category just because they had never seen them before. The black Brownie troop girls compared seeing white people to “trying to find a baby pigeon.”(Pg 4) Another time when the Brownie troop girls are treating the other little white girls with a type of indirect discrimination is when they would use the word Caucasian in all of the jokes they made. They would have jokes like “What are you Caucasian?”(Pg 3) They would use this joke in many different ways. If one ate too fast, talked a certain way, or carried yourself differently from the others you were considered Caucasian or an “outsider.” They would even use the word Caucasian as a way to make some girls in their own group an “outsider” as a type of joke. However, a major plot twist occurs that spins the entire story.
The little girls in black Brownies troop find out that the little white Girl Scout troops they were talking about and disliked were not just some rich, ditzy girls. Instead these little white girls were special need kids who all together had a variety of different learning disabilities. The Brownie girls are in the bathroom about to fight the other troop when the find out the news. When all the girls are in the bathroom Octavia whispered to Elise “they’re retarded.”(Pg 23) One of the white girls screamed back that they were not back to Octavia, but started crying shortly after showing that they were indeed mentally challenged. After the incident in the bathroom there was a clear difference in the attitudes of the girls. Even before the troop leader for 909 came in the Brownies troop had already decided that it wouldn’t be right for them to fight the girls in troop 909. Their attitude changes when they learn the new of the girl’s disabilities. With that attitude change you can tell that if the Brownies troop would have known that the other girls were disabled, troop 909 might not have received the discrimination they got from the beginning of the story.
In the short story “Geese” Packer shows us a more prevalent form of being out casted and treated unfairly unintentionally. In this story the main character Dina has moved from America to Japan. She makes the trip and moves on the spur of the moment. Dina receives discrimination in Japan when she tries to get her first job over there. Dina is discriminated against because she is not of Japanese descent. She receives a job at the Summerland Park because this is the place where they hire the unemployed people of different nationalities. Dina would also receive verbal slurs that one wouldn’t think were bad, but were. The business men in Japan would look at Dina as the “black gajin” (Pg 214) she was and say things like “very sexy.”(Pg 214)
This would be considered a type of derogatory slur towards Dina. Most of the Japanese sarimen pictured the black “gajin” that were in their country as prostitutes. This is why one could say the discrimination Dina received was unintentional. The Japanese sarimen knew no better. In his country that was the job that the black “gajin” girls were perceived to do. Dina was being discriminated against in Japan because of her color and what she was, not because they personally wanted to belittle her. When she tried to find work after the Summerland job was over she faced more of this same discrimination from other potential employers. The men doing the interviews expected her to trade sexual pleasures for the job, being that she was a black “gajin” and she no longer had a visa to stay in the country. What the Japanese man is doing to Dina isn’t wrong in his mind, that is just the way he was brought up to treat black “gajin,” so this discrimination he is showing towards Dina is not intentional, but instead his own ignorance.
In all three short stories the simple ignorance of people is the main reason why the different characters were being put in the “outsider” category. In different situations throughout these short stories one could come to the realization that if people knew better they wouldn’t do the things that they did. It is human nature to categorize or outcast people that you don’t know. Usually those people stay in the same category/ group until you have gotten the chance to know them. For that reason the discrimination that the characters received was not always intentional, but simply the ignorance of their peers and the people that surrounded them.